The Common Good

Smith: How Farm Aid Is Tied To Food Aid

Date: September 20, 2013

Farm Aid provides small grants to individual family farms in crisis, but focuses mostly on programs to build local and regional food systems that connect farmers directly to consumers. Most Americans eat food produced by huge factory farms, but it's the part-time farmers on small plots of land, often using organic methods, that make up the fastest-growing segment of U.S. agriculture. Farm Aid mainly looks out for them. On Friday resellers had a few dozen Farm Aid tickets left, with lawn seats starting at $111.

That single ticket price is pretty close to the average monthly food aid benefit the federal government provides: $131. Most beneficiaries are children, elderly or disabled, but military families rely on $100 million in food aid a year, and 170,000 veterans would lose out under the House plan.

Some supporters of the House bill say cutting that money is an essential step toward weaning people off government aid. Charity, they say, is more a job for churches and community-based efforts than for the government.

Many religious leaders don't see it that way. The Rev. Jim Wallis, a leader of the evangelical left, wrote Thursday in The Huffington Post: "The Bible clearly says that governmental authority includes the protection of the poor in particular, and instructs political rulers to promote their well-being."

It sounds logical to me. Big problems usually require big solutions. Farm Aid is a generous and fun way to support some small farms, but we wouldn't expect it to keep agricultural markets healthy. Is it any more useful to expect our poor and hungry citizens to get by without a full measure of help from a caring government? That's the real link between food and farm aid, and why we need to support both.